South Africa’s police will be transformed from an overstretched service tarnished by graft into a well-oiled machine that will send criminals fleeing, the new police chief said.
Bheki Cele was appointed national police commissioner by President Jacob Zuma last month, drawing criticism from opposition parties because he had no police background in a country with one of the world’s highest levels of violent crime.
But Cele, a former community safety minister in the KwaZulu-Natal province who took a hard line on crime, told Reuters he planned to shake up the police and root out graft. He faces a particular challenge before the 2010 World Cup finals.
“There are pockets of excellence in policing in the Republic of South Africa and there are areas that really need to be addressed in a very serious form,” he said in an interview.
“The pools of ugliness will be the number of police who are arrested because they are corrupt”.
Cele’s predecessor, Jackie Selebi, was suspended in January 2008 and faces a corruption trial in October.
Critics say a lack of personnel and resources have compromised the police service and justice system, allowing many criminals to evade prosecution, with courts often dismissing cases because of poor police investigations.
“Once this organisation is well-oiled, I can assure you criminals will begin to run. You can’t have a weak organisation and expect it to give you the best results,” Cele said.
“The one thing we are looking at is the quality of the South African police as an organisation. There is a lot of quantity, 183 000 members in this organisation and 5000 in the (police) college. We feel that we must improve the quality”.
South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime, with 18 487 murders, 36 190 rapes, and 14 201 reported carjackings in 2007-8, according to police. Many crimes go unreported.
About 50 people are murdered a day, slightly more than the rate in the US, which has six times South Africa’s 50 million population.
Cele said South Africans would have been able to live with high crime levels if criminal acts were not so brutal.
“The brutality goes beyond criminality,” he said, citing the case of a seven-year-old child who was shot six times in a recent attack.
Cele said laws needed to be revised to give police more protection. Critics of South Africa’s criminal justice laws say they have often constrained police from using their guns.
“Liberate the police. Laws must give the upper hand to the officers, and not put officers on par with criminals”.
“We cannot equate the human rights of the victims and perpetrator. Those that want to argue it, let them argue it, but I cannot equate the human rights of a raped woman and a rapist”.
South Africa was confident of dealing with any crime during the FIFA Soccer World Cup which the country hosts next year, Cele said, adding that he did not think the high crime levels would scare off visitors.
“That does not mean we must lapse in our preparation,” Cele said.
Pic: Bheki Cele (sitting down)- SA Police Chief